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Easterbrook: A Carbon Tax And The Free Market Are All That's Needed On Global Warming

Greg Easterbrook often touches on non-sport topics in his weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback essay on ESPN. This week, among other topics, he tackles global warming.

Al Gore Heartbroken That World Refuses to End: Once again last week, world leaders met to engage in duels of doomsaying and soaring rhetoric about global warming, then did nothing of substance. It's tempting to think concerns about artificial climate change aren't backed by science, or are just the latest form of power-grab by elites who want more taxes and more control over people's lives. Unfortunately, the scientific basis of global warming theory is reasonably (not completely) strong and the danger real (though exaggerated by Al Gore types). There's a self-interest aspect, to be sure. Washington, Brussels and other cities are rife with think-tank and NGO types who know that if some super-complex international greenhouse treaty is ever enforced, it will mean a lifetime of high-paid employment for them in the gigantic, stultifying bureaucracies that will be created. That's why they want a super-complex treaty, rather than simply taxing greenhouse gases and letting the market sort out details. That's the solution yours truly favors -- something must be taxed to reverse national debt trends, so tax greenhouse gases, since we want to discourage their production anyway. Taxes are a far simpler way to achieve ends than command-and-control: Taxing internalizes a cost, and then people decide for themselves how to respond to the tax. Here is that argument in detail.

Global temperatures have declined slightly in the past few years, which does not disprove artificial global warming, any more than a few warm years proves the notion. There's been almost no Atlantic cyclone activity this year, which does not disprove artificial global warming, any more than an active year (like 2005, the terrible year of Katrina and Rita) proves the notion. But absurdly, some environmentalists are upset that temperatures and hurricanes are down! Here is some enviro-establishment lamenting that in the past few years, the world hasn't gotten hotter. Wait, weren't we told that it would be bad if the world got hotter -- so shouldn't failure of the world to get hotter be a good thing? Not if your income depends on doomsday fundraising! There's a long tradition among ideologists of actually hoping things get worse, to cause radicalization. Marxists once rooted for "immiseration," or worsening working-class poverty, because this would cause the workers to rise up. Today some right-wingers root for terrorism because this would cause liberals to be voted out, while some enviros root for runaway warming because this could be used to justify state control of industry.

That global temperatures have gone down slightly for four years is unwelcome news to the instant-doomsday crowd. The reason may be minor natural fluctuation; maybe the current, puzzling lack of sunspots; maybe rising acid rain emissions from China and India, since sulfur dioxide is an anti-greenhouse-gas that reflects sunlight back into space. Who knows? Regardless, greenhouse levels in the atmosphere continue to rise. The greenhouse gases must be doing something. We probably won't like what they do -- since climate change (differing wind and rainfall patterns) means more than temperature anyway.

The current minor decline in global warmth is a warning not to exaggerate alarms. Since 1988, Gore and James Hansen of NASA have been saying that immediate action must be taken against greenhouse gases or artificial global warming will strike. Nothing's been done, and nothing has struck. This is not a reason for inaction: Greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere took half a century to become significant and may take half a century to repair. We need to start working on the problem, via carbon taxes and programs to restrict emissions of methane and H-CFCs, which are more potent pound-for-pound than carbon dioxide. But the sense of emergency cultivated by doomsayers backfires, because it literally makes no difference what we do this year. If no action is taken on greenhouse gases for a generation, there might be serious consequences. If no action is taken on greenhouse gases in 2009, there will be no consequences of any kind. In turn, this is a reason any greenhouse regulation enacted by Congress must be sensible. Getting it right is a hundredfold more important than doing something fast. The current House-passed greenhouse gas bill, stalled in the Senate, is nightmarishly bad legislation -- more than 1,400 pages of special-interest favors for political donors, command-and-control bureaucracy and handouts to the privileged. If enacted, it will do little to reduce greenhouse gases, while discrediting the notion of climate change legislation. Artificial global warming stands a better chance of being prevented if the House bill is mulched for recycling and a simple carbon tax enacted.

Lawmakers and leaders can't even come up with a comprehensible way to state their goals, let alone a comprehensible bill. Originally the House bill said it would create a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, from the level of 2005, by 2020; now it says a 17 percent reduction from 2005, but an 83 percent reduction by 2050. Love that pseudo-scientific precision! Not "about a two-thirds reduction," exactly an 83 percent reduction in exactly 41 years. The European Union says its greenhouse gas goal is a 20 percent reduction, from the level of 1990, by 2012. China wants the United States to commit to a 40 percent reduction, from the level of 2000, by 2020; while President Hu Jintao wants China itself to reduce carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 2020. At the G8 summit in Italy this summer, world leaders adopted a (nonbinding, of course) goal of 50 percent reduction, from the level of 2009, by 2040.

Some of the proposed "reductions" are double-talk. China's promise to reduce carbon emissions per unit of GDP, for example, is empty, since trends in technology are already reducing carbon output compared to GDP in every nation. This 2003 lecture by Jesse Ausubel of Rockefeller University details how "decarbonization" -- less fossil fuel per unit of economic activity -- is a century-long technological trend operating independent of decisions of governments. In 2007, George W. Bush pledged to "decarbonize" the United States economy, a pledge easily made since this required no action and was certain to occur anyway. That Bush's 2007 declaration and Hu's similar one last week were treated as significant concessions by a credulous press corps, and by international diplomats, shows many people running the greenhouse regulatory debate have no idea what they are talking about. Hu might as well have told the General Assembly, "To prevent global warming, I promise to cause the sun to rise."

Beyond that, all the zany estimates are completely meaningless. No one has the slightest idea what emission levels or global temperatures will be a decade from now, let alone in 2050. It doesn't matter that these things are unknown -- all that matters is triggering a phase of clean-energy innovation. We need a simple carbon tax that will give inventors and business people a profit motive to control greenhouse gases. Enact a tax, wait 20 years to see what's invented and what people decide to do voluntarily, then reassess the science. That's a practical formula for global warming reform. Sorry that it's not 1,400 pages long and won't guarantee corporate donations to chairmen of congressional committees.

Capitalism, is there anything it can't do?


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Comments (25)

Darn. And I had already mar... (Below threshold)
bobdog:

Darn. And I had already marked the day in 2017 when the world would end, cancelling all my appointments after that date. I was even sly enough to start shopping for a 30 year mortgage.

Can't count on nuthin' these days.

Global warming is a CROCK. ... (Below threshold)

Global warming is a CROCK. It isn't real. It isn't happening. Why don't we all just start shouting this from the rooftops? And quit listening to that lisping, mincing fool Al Gore.

Al Gore ain't gonna like yo... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Al Gore ain't gonna like you Kevin. He's got MILLIONS invested. To say nothing of his ego. He's worried that the Nobel people might ask for their prize back in another 5 years.

"Capitalism, is there anyth... (Below threshold)

"Capitalism, is there anything it can't do?"

A bit of unnecessary sarcasm?

Capitalism lacks a moral foundation. Which is, as it should be. So there is much that it cannot do.

However, implicit in Easterbrook's economic 'solution' is the assertion that, driven by sufficient economic reward, human ingenuity is a proven solution to physical challenges.

History speaks unequivocally to the efficacy of invention in addressing environmental challenges.

Easterbrook may 'only' be a sports columnist but that doesn't mean he's wrong or that he can't see to the heart of the matter.

Actually, what Easterbrook ... (Below threshold)
concerned conservative:

Actually, what Easterbrook is saying is wrong as well. Why do we need a tax to solve the so-called "problems"? That involves more government and they win eitherway then. How about letting business and people decide. Not some tax on unproven and unscientific trype.

Basically, I'm opposed to a... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Basically, I'm opposed to any "tax" instituted for the sole purpose of changing people's behavior patterns. Taxes fall disproportionately on the poor (just ask Babs Boxer). So to counter that, the "poor" will get energy refunds. This 'refund' sounds like your telling the "poor", it's okay to waste energy; after all they're not 'paying' the tax.

Education would be a better way to accomplish your goal, without pulling money from the economy. Education programs might take longer, but you still reach your goal without sacrificing economic growth.

"Tax dollars" have a tendency to wander if you don't pay close attention. Witness the "First 5" Progrram in Kalifornia. Cigarette tax to promote education in the first 5 years of life. Suddenly it's found that "tax money" is being spent by the MILLIONS on ads for a liberal political proposition on the ballot. Next it's found that members of "First 5 County Boards" are also EMPLOYEES of organizations that receive "First 5 funds". Imagine that. And you folks thought ACORN was a racket.

Easterbrook makes a nice tr... (Below threshold)

Easterbrook makes a nice try but fails to do his homework. His science is mostly wrong and his solution assumes there is a problem that doesn't exist.
To quote him: "The reason may be minor natural fluctuation; maybe the current, puzzling lack of sunspots; maybe rising acid rain emissions from China and India, since sulfur dioxide is an anti-greenhouse-gas that reflects sunlight back into space. Who knows? Regardless, greenhouse levels in the atmosphere continue to rise. The greenhouse gases must be doing something. We probably won't like what they do -- since climate change (differing wind and rainfall patterns) means more than temperature anyway."

An anti-greenhouse gas ? What the f is he talking about ... the largest reflector of sunlight back into space are clouds ... which are made up of ..... water vapor ... which is .... the LARGEST greenhouse gas in the atmo by a huge margin ...

So by his logic water vapor is both a greenhouse gas and an anti-greenhouse gas ...

Then his "must be doing something" statement ... thats some scientific rigor there ...

And the "current puzzling lack of sunspots" are just part of the natural cycle. A cycle we don't FULLY understand ...

What we do know from the historic record is that CO2 levels rise after global temperatures rise ... remember the Little Ice age ? no, well we are recovering from it still ...

Easterbrook sure does sound smart ...

Big hat, big boots ... no cattle ...

Capitalism lacks a moral... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Capitalism lacks a moral foundation. Which is, as it should be. So there is much that it cannot do.

This isn't the dumbest thing I have read here, but it comes close.

Capitalism is not a moral/ethical system. It is an economic system. Capitalism does not address morality it addresses supply and demand and movement of goods and services etc.

Yes, much evil can be done under capitalism when evil people decide to do wrong. However, it pales in comparison to the millions murdered by fascism and the 100's of millions murdered by communism.

History speaks unequivoc... (Below threshold)
jim m:

History speaks unequivocally to the efficacy of invention in addressing environmental challenges.

Absolutely! I would point to the Aral Sea as possibly the best example of government inventing ways to improve the environment.

The soviets poured as much as 75% of it into uncultivated desert where the remaining 25% was used to grow rice (Yeah, rice in a desert sounds about right for a government program). Meanwhile they lost 18% of their annual fish catch because they turned the sea into a dry bed.

Invention where there is not problem does not provide useful solutions.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a firm believer in invention being the mother of necessity. Nobody needed a telephone until they demonstrated what it could do. Everyone thought that the telegraph worked just fine. What you cannot do is force innovation particularly when there really isn't any problem to solve.

Global warming is BS and scientists are more and more recognizing that truth. But we will have government draining the sea to farm rice in he desert when they could have managed the fisheries and fed far more people. All this cap and trade talk is BS. It will do nothing useful and make everyone poorer. (but maybe THAT is what Obama and his friend really want after all)

I favor a tax more so than ... (Below threshold)
Victory is Ours:

I favor a tax more so than cap and trade. Cap and trade is just another vehicle with which Republicans like Kenny Lay can rape Americans, and it clear that there will never be enough regulatory power to stop Republicans.

Vic

Vic - to what end should we... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Vic - to what end should we be destroying our economy when we have actually reduced carbon emissions MORE than any signatory to the Kyoto agreement and China and India are doing Bupkiss?

Why should we do this unless the purpose of the whole thing is simply to bring our country to its knees (Oh. I forgot, that IS what Obama wants).

"Cap and trade is just anot... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"Cap and trade is just another vehicle with which Republicans like Kenny Lay can rape Americans"

I think you're statement would be better if you used a living person. Say, AL GORE. Who actually runs such a business. Ooops, sorry, he's a Democrat. So if "Republicans" RAPE, what do "Democrats" do?

one note that i believe Mr ... (Below threshold)
seaPea:

one note that i believe Mr Easterbrook missed is that Pres Bush knew that promising reduced carbons was an 'empty' one. Pres Bush knew just as well as Mr Easterbrook that technology in the USA is constantly pushing use of carbons down.

Also, I feel it is important that people who don't normally read Mr Easterbrook know that he has constantly harped on 'global climate fearmongers' for not acting like there was a global climate change. Like by having conferences in the Caribbean.

"Republicans like Kenny Lay... (Below threshold)
jim m:

"Republicans like Kenny Lay"

Now what exactly would that mean? Ken Lay died in 2006. Is Vic really concerned that dead Republicans are going to "Rape Americans"? I can see his concern since dead Democrats only vote.

Enron gave far more money t... (Below threshold)
SCSIwuzzy:

Enron gave far more money to dems than reps...

Bravo. A carbon tax would a... (Below threshold)
CTF:

Bravo. A carbon tax would avoid the evasion and market manipulation inherent to cap and trade, incentivize green R&D and return the revenue to families already struggling under the weight of the current economic downturn. It's a win for the environment, a win for the economy and a win for the American family.

A carbon tax would be inher... (Below threshold)
jim m:

A carbon tax would be inherently regressive and would hurt the poorest of people most. Any way you slice it if you are taxing gasoline or heating fuel or electricity (produced though coal or as) you sock t to the poor who have the least flexibility in their income and least ability to adjust to the added taxation.

But like most liberal schemes, screwing the poor is par for the course.

sorry that should have read... (Below threshold)
jim m:

sorry that should have read coal or Gas. keyboard needs cleaning.

Unfortunately, the... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Unfortunately, the scientific basis of global warming theory is reasonably (not completely) strong

That's the propaganda the IPCC has created to push the Environmentalists' agenda.

Enact a tax, wait 20 years to see what's invented and what people decide to do voluntarily, then reassess the science. That's a practical formula for global warming reform.

Except it's based on the unproven assumption that increases in CO2 cause increases in temperature. In the meantime any tax on fossil fuels will slow economic growth.

A better approach is for the government to fund basic research and also to offer prizes for the development of key technologies. One of which would be a solar cell that's durable and stable over 20 years or longer and can produce power for around 1 dollar per watt.

Building codes could then require some minimum solar wattage on new homes and major renovations where the roof has to be changed or added to. For many years building codes have been requiring builders to spend extra on new construction and most people would agree that it has been for the good. This would be just another such requirement.

Unfortunately, the scien... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Unfortunately, the scientific basis of global warming theory is reasonably (not completely) strong

Unfortunately, the core data and research that supports the global warming hypothesis has gone mysteriously missing when researchers made official requests to actually see the data.
http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=ZTBiMTRlMDQxNzEyMmRhZjU3ZmYzODI5MGY4ZWI5OWM

So there is no data, which means there is no science, only lies and deceit.

Academic fraud has been conclusively demonstrated going back to the Mann report with it's famous 'hockey stick'.

NASA famously revised its temperature data after it was shown that they made a simple math error resulting in the need to correct temperature reports downward for the last decade.

Independent audits of surface stations have shown that the majority in the US (where the "best data" comes from) are not in compliance with standards which would exclude local bias (like air conditioner exhaust and pavement or incandescent light bulbs in the enclosure).

It's not science it's politics.

An independent survey has s... (Below threshold)
jim m:

An independent survey has shown that as many as 61% of surface stations in the US have a >=2 degree C bias due to external heating sources being located within 10 meters of the temperature monitoring equipment. 8% had a bias of 5 degrees C due to sensors being locate next to or above an artificial heat source.

So 2/3 of sites do not meet NOAA's standards for weather stations yet we are supposedly relying on this data for proof of global warming and public policy.

And before you object: Yes I know it is just the US, but it is supposed to be the best and most complete data available for the recent past. If we are going to claim warming based on recent data and all the recent data is compromised then we really don't have good science do we?

It's not science it's polit... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

It's not science it's politics. Well, when you really get down to it, it's MONEY!

Al Gore found his niche and he's going to milk it for all it's worth.

If we were seeing global wa... (Below threshold)

If we were seeing global warming due to the atmosphere there should be a tropical hot spot in the upper atmosphere. The satellites have been look for it for years with no luck.

If we are warming (which is less and less certain every year that we DON'T ACTUALLY WARM) it is being caused by something other the the greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect using CO2 was actually tested with a non heat reflecting greenhouse (just like the earths atmosphere) years ago (I'll find the link). They used some sort of sheets of salt that allowed light in but would not reflect much radiant heat unlike glass which reflects alot of radiant heat back. They pumped up the CO2 concentration but could never get the temperature to rise above a certain level. No matter how much CO2 they pumped in they couldn't get the temperature to rise above that level.

CO2 and water vapor (the largest greenhouse effect gas) only delay the release of radiant heat into space they can't actually stop it like a sheet of glass in a real greenhouse.

the link for the experiment... (Below threshold)

the link for the experiment ...

http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/wood_rw.1909.html

What we realy need is a HOT... (Below threshold)
Flu-Bird:

What we realy need is a HOT AIR TAX to be paid by all those eco-wackos who open their mouths and produce HOT AIR and that includes AL GORE and those idiots from GREENPEACE and the various other eco-freak groups




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